10sBalls.com • TennisBalls.com

Love-fest for Atlanta Could be What Turns Around Recent Tennis Fortunes for Isner and Kyrgios

“I would love to hold that trophy again,” John Isner said after defeating J. J. Wolf in his Truist Atlanta Open opener. EPA-EFE/ERIK S. LESSER

By Ricky Dimon

It’s no secret that the Truist Atlanta Open is one of John Isner’s and Nick Kyrgios’ favorite stops on tour.

In 10 installments of the tournament dating back to 2010, Isner has played in the final eight times and is a five-time champion. One of his three losses in the championship match came against none other than Kyrgios in 2016. As for Kyrgios, he likes Atlanta so much that in 2019 he didn’t even bother playing singles, showed up for doubles, lost his first-round match with Tommy Paul, and spent the rest of the week hanging out and—usually with adult beverages in hand—watching the matches.

Dating back to the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic last spring, neither Isner nor Kyrgios has played much tennis. Isner has two children under the age of three—all the more reason to take advantage of family time instead of travelling the world during a global health crisis. Kyrgios mostly stayed at home in Australia, a country with one of the strictest lockdowns.

But neither guy was ever going to skip Atlanta, especially not after it was cancelled last summer. And their appearances here could provide them with on-court momentum that has been lacking for more than a year now. Both Isner and Kyrgios played inspired tennis in their first-round matches on Tuesday. After Isner battled past fellow American J.J. Wolf 6-4, 6-7(3), 6-4, Kyrgios defeated recent Newport winner Kevin Anderson 7-6(4), 6-3 in the nightcap.

Once again thriving in fast, high-bouncing conditions, Isner sent 36 aces whizzing past Wolf.

“It’s definitely one of my favorite places to play at,” the 36-year-old said. “It’s without a doubt the most successful tournament of my career. It’s the 11th time they’ve had the event here in Atlanta and I’ve been in the finals eight times. I just have great memories here.

“[This event] is great. The setup here in Atlantic Station is awesome; everyone knows that. I have my wife and kids here; we’ve got our little room, we have our washer and dryer, making breakfast in the morning. It definitely feels like I’m at home right now. I’ve said it a zillion times; I’m very comfortable here in Atlanta.

“But that doesn’t guarantee anything, of course.”

Or does it?

“I just loving playing here in Atlanta,” Nick Kyrgios said. EPA-EFE/ERIK S. LESSER
Favorable conditions, home-court advantage as an American and also former college star at the University of Georgia, and general comfortability used to pretty much guarantee success for Isner. Death, taxes, and Isner making it to the Atlanta final were basically the three certainties of life. He fell to Mardy Fish in the first two finals and—after losing to Andy Roddick in the 2012 semis en route to what would be the last title of Roddick’s career—went title, title, title, final, title, title between 2013 and 2018.

Following a tough opening loss to Reilly Opelka in 2019 and then the 2020 cancellation, Isner is eager to restore order in Atlanta.

“A couple years ago I lost to Reilly 7-6 in the third and obviously last year didn’t happen,” the world No. 35 reflected. “I would love to hold that trophy again.”

It won’t be easy in what is an impressive field for an ATP 250 tournament. Plenty of substantial roadblocks stand in front of Isner, and Kyrgios could be the biggest one of all (they would not face each other until the final, however). The 26-year-old Australian looked every bit like a title contender during his straight-set defeat of Anderson in front of a thoroughly entertained late-night crowd. He fired 15 aces while double-faulting only once, won 80 percent of his first-serve points, and did not face a single break point.

Perhaps most importantly, Kyrgios was focused and motivated from start to finish. He knew he had to be against Anderson if he wanted to win—and Atlanta is one the places where he actually does want to win.

“Kevin is no easy opponent,” Kyrgios commented. “He’s a finalist at Grand Slams and he knows how to win matches. His serve is one of the best in the world, so I knew today was going to be incredibly tough. I haven’t played too many matches, but I was serving well.

“I just love playing here in Atlanta.”  

Ricky contributes to10sballs.com and also maintains his own tennis website, The Grandstand. You can follow him on twitter at @Dimonator.
ReplyReply allForward